As good as today's GPS navigators are, many people only pull them out if they are lost or going somewhere new. And if you don't know the...
As good as today’s GPS navigators are, many people only pull them out if they are lost or going somewhere new. And if you don’t know the address of your destination, getting there can be tricky.
I tested the Dash Express, a new GPS unit that tackles these issues and others by doing what we all do when we’re stumped: connect to the Internet.
The Dash ($400; dash.net) has more bulk than most GPS devices because it has three built-in antennae: a GPS antenna to detect the unit’s position, a Wi-Fi antenna for software updates and a cellphone antenna to connect to the Internet.
It has the standard features of most GPS systems, but Dash executives said their device is primarily aimed at a different audience: drivers who don’t need help finding their way.
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The Dash tries to help drivers make better decisions about the routes they take and make it easier for them to find places to go.
Unlike other GPS devices, the Dash does more than just report major accidents. It uses live traffic conditions to suggest up to three routes for every trip, and if traffic conditions change while you are driving, it tells you if it’s faster to wait for the traffic to clear or switch to another route.
The Dash does this by relying on traffic reports from a third-party vendor and on its network of users.
With every unit connected to the Internet, each device anonymously and automatically sends its location and speed back to Dash’s servers. Dash then takes those reports and sends them out to other users in the area to give them updates on traffic information. The result is more current and detailed traffic information, company officials said.
But if you live in a smaller city that doesn’t have a lot of Dash users, the traffic information won’t be as good.
The Dash’s other main draw is how it uses the Internet to help you find places to go. Rather than just having pre-loaded points of interest, the Dash Express is connected to Yahoo’s Local search, which provides limitless options. You can type in the name of a business, the type of place you are looking for (ice cream, vet, etc.,) or even the name of a product to find nearby stores that carry it. There also are gas prices and movie times. The result is a search interface that’s much more intuitive and easy to use than the average GPS system.
Besides giving destination addresses, the device often gives a phone number and a star rating, based on Yahoo user reviews. Before you hit the road, you can send addresses to the device by logging onto Dash’s Web site.
You can also create saved searches for places you might visit often.
The Internet service costs between $10 and $13 a month, but Dash is offering the first three months of service free.
The Dash Express is the geekiest GPS device on the market, but it does have some flaws that may limit its appeal to well-heeled early adopters.
The device often took so long to pinpoint my location that I sometimes found myself at an intersection waiting for the Dash to locate me, recalculate my route and tell me where to go. The device told me to make a turn at a dead end and gave me several other incorrect instructions. Zooming in on maps was also somewhat difficult.
When I was using it in my car, it created a lot of feedback and interference. When I tried the unit in another car, the feedback went away.
Many of the Dash’s shortcomings can be fixed without users having to buy anything, since Dash updates its maps and software for free over the air. That makes the high price tag a little easier to swallow.
Overall, the Dash Express has the potential to shake up the GPS market. I expect other manufacturers to start incorporating the Internet into their devices.